Kudzu review (Switch)

Modern day Game Boy releases tend to take inspiration from either Castlevania or Zelda. It pays to crib from the classics, certainly, and the genres in which these two fall allow for a wealth of possibilities.

With its top-down perspective and dungeon-style locations, it’s clear where the bulk of Kudzu’s inspiration lies. The premise is more modern in comparison and could even be considered unique. Rapidly growing kudzu grass – commonly found in Japan and China – engulfs the land, causing the humble citizens no end of problems. This set-up facilitates the need to find better tools to beat back the bush, while the story is carried by not just the disappearance of the town’s master gardener, but also the likelihood of discovering the source of the growth.

Kudzu review (Switch)

In this monochromatic adventure – available on a Game Boy cart via Mega Cat Studios, and as an inexpensive Switch eShop download – we’re cast into the role of Max, an apprentice gardener who fearlessly heads into the undergrowth while armed with a machete. A small town with a shop and library acts as a hub, which you’ll need to occasionally revisit, while the surrounding areas lead to dungeon-style locations that feature puzzles, bosses, and new items that assist in progression.

Throughout the world, ranger stations can be found – and it’s here that Max can rest and save progress. If you’re about to head into a boss room, helpfully indicated by a skull, it pays to backtrack to a station and perhaps source a jar of kudzu jelly, used to restore health while adventuring. I lost around five minutes’ worth of progress here and there, but was always able to recover quickly and get back on track.  

It leans into the weed-growing aspect heavily; it isn’t just the plot’s crux, but many of the game’s mechanics are based around it. You may have to cut weeds back to make a path for a lever flicking projectile or rake weeds into a hole to create a path. These puzzles, while not particularly taxing, are still enjoyable to solve. It’s also clear that effort has gone into boss battles, with each defeated in a different way, and no less than two being tag-team battles where Max’s gardening rival assists. Enemies, too, have different attack patterns. Snakes charge and strike, while giant snails with their protective shells can only be harmed from the front. Often, all enemies in a room must be defeated to unlock a gate.

Kudzu review (Switch)

A couple of boss battles feel a little ropey in their execution however – the first boss is formed of several sprites, which came increasingly jumbled as the battle went on – while the collision detection elsewhere can be iffy, with Max haphazardly rebounding when struck. There’s no on-screen health bar – no HUD at all, in fact – with a health gauge instead appearing whenever Max is hit. While novel, this did lead to checking the menu screen irritatingly frequently. The inventory screen isn’t much to look at either, being more functional than fancy. Dungeon maps fare better, purchased from a humanoid talking cat.

The sense of progression here is decent; bosses take a couple of retries, and there’s scope to backtrack and revisit areas once new items have been acquired. There’s a herd of lost goats to look out for too, some of which are well tucked away. Dungeons quickly expand in size, with one multifloored affair being quite maze-like, complete with an optional puzzle to return to. Neither is it quite as formulaic as other top-down adventures, in that the boss room isn’t necessarily the last port of call. They’re spread periodically, and before exiting a dungeon three kudzu roots must be found and destroyed, progressing the story.

Kudzu review (Switch)

Visually, it’s comparable to the Game Boy titles of the mid ‘90s – a sort of halfway home between Link’s Awakening and Pokémon Red/Blue. Areas overloaded with detail can look cluttered, but it’s mostly easy enough on the eye. Each dungeon has an attractive splash screen upon entering, helping set the tone. Boss battle music is appropriately ominous. The biggest problem concerning the presentation are the glitches, which together with the questionable collision detection (I swear a snake somehow killed me in one hit) gives Kudzu a rough edge. Further, this Switch version suffers from some of the Game Boy’s technical limitations, with a noticeable drop in framerate whenever more than three enemies are on screen. It still offers more than just an emulated version though, with a choice of borders and a digital manual. Ultimately, the technical hiccups aren’t too distracting.

It’s easy to tell Kudzu is something the team genuinely, and passionately, wanted to create – a quirky gardening adventure, with a story engaging enough to carry it through to the end, and a sideline of silliness. At around 4-5 hours, this is also one of the longer ‘modern retro’ Game Boy titles, with similar homebrew adventures beatable in around 2 hours. I also liked the fact that unlike kudzu grass itself, this wasn’t a slow grower – it’s easy to get into. Those weaned on the Game Boy adventures of yore will likely appreciate its ‘old school’ ways more than greener gamers. Either way, Kudzu is a sound enough deal – a fun little adventure for under a fiver, albeit one with its foibles to keep in mind. It’s very much an experience bound to its hardware.

Pie for Breakfast Studio’s Kudzu is available on the Switch eShop. Alternatively, a Game Boy version is available from Mega Cat Studios.